By Mark Blumenthal
JACKSONVILLE — What once was a team one victory away from a Super Bowl two years ago has turned into a hardly recognizable franchise.
The Jacksonville Jaguars hit a new bottom Sunday at T.I.A.A. Bank Field, losing 45-10 to the Los Angeles Chargers, a franchise with as many wins as the Jaguars had, except whatever ailed the Chargers got fixed in a 60-minute display of near-perfect offense and defense.
That’s how bad things were for the Jaguars on Sunday. After Philip Rivers carved up the Jaguars’ defense on 16-of-22 passing for 314 yards and three touchdown passes, backup Tyrod Taylor threw a touchdown pass late in the game in mop-up duty. This was the same Taylor who once needed seven shots to get into the end zone from inside the Jaguars’ 10 on first and goal, but had to settle for a field goal in the Jaguars’ 10-3 playoff victory over the Buffalo Bills two seasons ago when Taylor was the Bills’ quarterback.
That Jaguars defense was dominant in 2017, and was within half a quarter of going to Super Bowl LII before losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, 24-20. But that seems like ages ago now. This Jaguars defense surrendered 525 yards to the Chargers on Sunday. Running back Austin Ekelar had a game to remember, rushing for 101 yards on eight carries, then catching four passes for 112 yards and a TD.
It was no wonder that it had funeral feel after Sunday’s game on the losing end.
“I’m responsible for wins and losses,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said afterward. Since the Jaguars’ victory over the perennial power New England Patriots, 31-20, at home on Sept. 16, 2018, the Jaguars have a 7-20 record. Some speculated that Marrone could be let go as coach as early as Monday with this year’s team at 4-9.
“We made too many mistakes. There were mistakes all over the place. That goes on coaches and players and everyone. We’ve got to take a good look. We’ve got three games left. No one is coming to help us … everyone is playing. We’ve got to keep playing and find a way to get this thing done, but obviously, it’s a poor performance all around, starting with me, the coaches and the on-the-field performances.”
The Jaguars defense has swallowed 12 touchdown passes since the Oct. 15 trade that sent Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of first-round draft choices and a fourth-round pick. Worse, though, the Jaguars secondary has been picked on for four TD passes of 30 or more yards in the last three games. All three of Rivers’ TD passes were 30 or more yards on Sunday – one to a wide-open Hunter Henry of 30 yards, one to Ekelar of 84 yards in which he took the pass out of the backfield and never had a hand laid on him as he dashed to the end zone and one to Mike Williams on an amazing catch of 44 yards.
“The effort was there. It’s never been an effort thing,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said after the Jaguars could get to Rivers just one time on a sack. “Guys are frustrated and we got beat, but I don’t question anybody’s effort ever because these guys, they work hard, come out here, and give everything they got. It’s just bad. Guys are running full speed. They scored an (84)-yard touchdown on a screen and there are four or five guys running right behind him. The effort was there. We just got beat.”
While the defense got sliced and diced up by a potential Hall of Famer in Rivers, the offense had no answers after a first drive of 67 yards on 14 plays led to a Josh Lambo field goal of 26 yards to give the Jaguars a 3-0 lead. Gardner Minshew II, asked by Marrone to handle the quarterback duties the rest of the season instead of Nick Foles, the one-time Super Bowl MVP brought in to help give the franchise stability behind center, could only muster one touchdown pass on a 24-of-37 passing day, a 12-yard scoring strike to tight end Nick O’Leary, the former Florida State star and grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus. It was O’Leary’s first touchdown in a Jaguars uniform.
“They are super disciplined, they’re going to make you throw it underneath and then come up and tackle very well,” Minshew said after throwing for 162 yards. Though the Jaguars struggled offensively, they did not commit a turnover on the late afternoon. “We still had opportunities to make plays and we didn’t. We should’ve done better, but they’re a pretty good defense. Our first drive had a little momentum where we were hitting. Then we kinda got off schedule. We had some tough third downs that we didn’t convert and we didn’t stay on the field like we could have.”
“It’s hard, especially when you have the same results that we have,” said Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette in a monotone, sullen voice. Fournette ran for 50 yards and was bottled up a good amount of the day by the Chargers defense. Though Fournette reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the loss for the second time in three seasons, he said he felt no joy in getting the accomplishment due to the loss, the Jaguars’ fifth in a row that slipped them to 4-9. At 1,039 yards, Fournette is one yard away from matching his 1,040-yard mark of two years ago.
“There are days I want to be upset, mad as hell. But I’m trying to finish the season off in a positive note, come and try to spark this team for the week, getting prepared for the game. Whatever it takes. It’s hard, but once again, you have to push your emotion to the side (and) your pride, too. We’ve all been here. I hate losing, so it’s difficult for me to come in here and figure everything is all good, when it’s not. But that’s a part of growing, too. I’ve been trying to do a good job of that this year, just showing my team that no matter what’s going on you’ve got to stick up for them.”
The remaining portion of the Jaguars’ schedule has them going to Oakland this Sunday, Atlanta the following Sunday and hosting Indianapolis in the season finale. Whether Marrone is there until the end is up to owner Shad Khan, general manager David Caldwell and Tom Coughlin, the executive vice-president of football operations.
“I don’t have the opportunity to show poor leadership or show frustration,” Marrone said. “When you say ‘frustration,’ I’m talking about negative. Obviously, you get upset and you become competitive. That’s probably a better word. With the frustration, if there is something good that can come out of it, then I would show it. I don’t know right now if anything good would come out of it. I’m trying to make sure we do a better job coaching, I do a better job, and get these guys performing better.”